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In earthquakes, alerts may turn machines into action heroes

Patrick Thibodeau | Sept. 3, 2014
Earthquake warnings, automated shutdowns are all part of future.

Bashioum said that until the government makes earthquake early warning systems fully functional, private-sector companies can't use the data to issue alerts. All they do now are test installations.

"Our efforts right now are focused on identifying what needs to be done," said Bashioum, who is among those speaking next week at the International Conference on Earthquake Early Warning at the University of California, Berkeley. Saving lives is the main goal, he said.

Large companies may be interested as well.

David Jonker, the senior director of Big Data Initiatives at SAP, said in an earthquake early warning, where every second counts, the challenge is to issue a warning as fast as possible. There won't be time to read disks, and he believes in-memory systems will be the preferred approach for processing warning data.

SAP is already in the warning business; it provides technology for NY-Alert, New York's all-hazard alert and notification system.

Jonker said SMS, as well as user responses, are too slow. "You are very much talking about a machine-to-machine play," he said.

What is clear is that building an early warning system will take time, and that includes the time needed to train the public in how to respond to warnings.

"We're going to be focused on getting the science right and the warning generated correctly, and then we're going to depend on our public sector and corporate partners to figure out how we are going to push it out," said Bill Steele, director of outreach and information services at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.


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